Weddell Seal Population Count Activity

Adult Weddell Seal in Antarctica
An adult Weddell Seal on the sea ice in Antarctica (photo: Michelle LaRue)


Knowing ‘how many’ of any animal is one of the first questions researchers seek to answer when they study a population. Getting that answer is not always easy. If you wanted to know how many robins were in your county how would you do that? If you wanted to know how many deer were in the forest, what would be your procedure? How about whales in the ocean?

Many people think seals are easy to count. There is no place for them to hide when they are out of the water. They are not afraid of people so don’t run away, and if they are with a pup, the adult stays in the same location for several days. However, it is not that easy. There are seals all over the place as new cracks in the ice create new suitable locations for feeding and many seals move to these new areas. Counting individuals is difficult unless they are tagged because it’s hard to know if we counted this one yesterday or not. To solve these problem scientists are using satellite imagery that can take a picture of a large area at one moment in time. They then can count them using a computer.

Activity: Introduction

Students can help scientists in the field monitor the Weddell seal population in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Using Satellite images students count the seal population over time in several traditional haul-out locations. New images are added every year to make this on ongoing engaging activity which allows them to follow the change in population of Weddell Seals.

Teachers & Students: Help us count seals!

We have created a Seal Counting Activity for students to do in the classroom. Teachers, download the files below and share with your students. Included in the files are an Overview, Background Information for Teachers, Seal Count Tutorial and the source satellite images (14 total from Big Razorback Island and Tent Island, Antarctica). When students have completed the Tutorial, send your results to us at

Activity: Downloads

The ZIP file below contains all the project files, zipped into one convenient download. Click the link to start the download (138 MBs).

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ZIP contents
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To download all files on one package, click the ZIP link in the box above.

  1. Seal Count Activity Overview (PDF)
  2. Seal Count Background Slides for Teachers (PDF or Powerpoint)
  3. Seal Count Activity Tutorial Slides (PDF or Powerpoint)
  4. BR_2006-NOV-11_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  5. BR_2009-NOV-06_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  6. BR_2010-DEC-21_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  7. BR_2010-NOV-05_500dpi.jpg (JPEG
  8. BR_2010-NOV-27_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  9. BR_2010-OCT-30_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  10. BR_2011-JAN-29_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  11. BR_2011-NOV-15_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  12. TI_2006-NOV-12_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  13. TI_2009-NOV-06_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  14. TI_2010-DEC-21_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  15. TI_2010-NOV-05_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  16. TI_2010-NOV-27_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  17. TI_2010-OCT-30_500dpi.jpg (JPEG)
  18. README (TXT)

All satellite imagery © DigitalGlobe, Inc.